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Forward genetics to accelerate crop improvement

The Crop Genetics group focuses on the dissection of complex traits of agronomic relevance. We focus on plant genetic resources representing untapped genetic agrobiodiversity with potential for local adaptation, in the effort to develop genomic-based breeding tools to foster sustainable intensification of farming systems. 

This end is pursued using genomics and transcriptomics to produce genomic information on segregating populations, landraces collections, crop wild relatives, and neglected and underutilized crop species. We have in-house capabilities for bioinformatic analyses starting from raw reads up to SNP calling and diversity analysis. Genomic information is then used in combination with phenotyping in field and controlled conditions to carry out quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping and genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Gene expression data is combined with genomic data and trait values to conduct eQTL mapping and pinpoint candidate genes. 

We carry out forward genetics with a twist. QTL mapping and GWAS are conducted not only on agronomic traits, but also on bioclimatic variables, blending quantitative trait analysis with population genetics and adaptation genomics. Our favourite flavour of forward genetics is what we do in collaboration with smallholder farmers, conducting participatory variety selection in combination with genomic characterization to map genomic loci responsible to farmers’ appreciation, especially in smallholder farming systems.